Happy Mexican Independence Day!
September 16th is the day when Mexicans all over the world celebrate Mexico's independence from Spanish rule. On that date in 1810 after a 10 year war the country declared it's independence from Spain.
What about Cinco de Mayo? I think that in the United States many people assume that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day. Maybe this misconception is from the recent interest of so many restaurants and bars having celebrations on this day. While I appreciate all holidays that can teach us a bit about Latino culture, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army's defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, not it's Independence Day. The real party for Mexicans takes place on on September 16.
I grew up in two predominately Mexican neighborhoods on the South side of Chicago. These neighborhoods celebrated Mexican Independence Day on September 16th in many ways, each highlighted with big parades. I remember looking forward to September 16th, it was a special day in the community. It seemed like the entire day was a big party. My family would walk a few blocks to the parade route, carrying our Mexican flags. The street vendors would be out in full force – selling food (lots and lots of it!), Mexican flags in all sizes, toys, and clothing. Many people placed big Mexican flags on their cars and cruised down the neighborhood streets. Some of our neighbors planned big parties, blocking off entire streets for their celebrations, with great food, bounce houses and music. The sights, the sounds, the smells - they were delightful! It was a day when I felt very proud of my Mexican roots. I knew where I came from. I knew that I very much belonged to and loved the two cultures that gave me identity - my Mexican heritage and my family's new American roots were just as important to me. I thought it was cool that I celebrated the 4th of July and September 16th, both in different but very awesome fashions.
It was also a day when it seemed like the problems facing this lovely community halted - the gang violence in particular seemed distant. I felt really happy watching the parade make its way down our version of "Main Street," in our community it's fondly called "la calle viente-seis" - meaning 26th Street. 26th Street is the main street in an immigrant enclave near the west side of Chicago known as Little Village, "La Villita." My parents emigrated to this community in the 1970s from their small rural farming town in México. It's a community where many students do not graduate from high school, much less go on to college. Street gangs are as prevalent as the graffiti markings they leave behind. It's also a hardworking community, a proud community and a place rich in culture. On September 16th pride seems to beam from this place, with cheerful mariachi music filling the air and bright colors visible in every direction.
My little part of the world seemed pretty picture perfect on September 16th.
While I enjoyed watching the parade on 26th Street, I loved participating in it too! On several occasions I dressed in traditional Mexican folkloric dance costumes and rode on a parade float. Other times I marched alongside classmates, representing our high school's Latino heritage club. I wish that I could post a few pictures from me at these parades, but they are back home in Chicago - next time! You can check out this year's parade here and below are some nice ones taken at recent parades.
I love this first picture from Ken Ilio!
I also loved that my father would watch the "grito" celebration that was being televised live from the zócalo (plaza) of Mexico City. While my community's Mexican Independence Day celebration was really nice, I can recall watching the main grito celebration taking place in Mexico City and wishing I could be there too! A great explanation of this tradition can be found in an article by May Herz. He writes:
"...Streets, houses, buildings and cars are decorated everywhere in the country. On every street corner there are vendors selling flags, balloons, sombreros and rehiletes -shuttlecock, all with the green, white and red, our National Colors. Flags wave from practically every house and building. Lighted decorations are set up in every city, the most spectacular being those of theZócalo, main plaza, in Mexico City. This main plaza of every town and city is the place where the great 16 De Septiembre celebrations take place. People of all ages come to this fiesta, to take part in the collective gaiety! ....
During the evening of September 15, people start gathering in the zócalo. Many people walk around dressed in typical Mexican dress: men as Charros and women asChina Poblanas, or indigenous dresses. Those who don't own a typical outfit, at least dress find something to wear in the colors of the flag. Live Mariachi Music bands play to the delight of all present...The euphoria is collective and all are prepared to shout, yell and make as much noise as possible with fake trumpets, noisemakers and whistles! As the evening advances, the plaza gradually fills with more and more people; suddenly there is practically no room to move. Excitement and euphoria reach a crescendo at the culminating moment when a government official arrives in the zócalo, at 11:00 P.M. to give the grito or cry of Independence. This ritual recreates the moment in which Father Hidalgo, gathered his followers in Dolores Guanajuato.
It is customary for our President to deliver the grito in Mexico City’s zócalo. It is in this plaza, atop Palacio Nacional, the National Palace - a beautiful colonial building where the President’s offices are located-, that the original bell rung by Hidalgo is placed. And this is the bell that is rung every 16th of September. The ceremony reaches the high point when the crowd joins in proudly shouting out the names of the heroes of our Independence, to end with the exciting VIVA MÉXICO! When the grito ceremony ends, the sky lights up with multicolored rockets that shower our hearts with the pride of knowing that we are a free and independent nation."
I wish very much that I could be back in my hometown Chicago to celebrate (perhaps I can be in Mexico one year!), but I am lucky to be the LA area, where celebrations are taking place around the city to commemorate September 16th :)
Growing up, December 12th in my household was a very important day. I would say that next Christmas, we probably anticipated the arrival of this day the most and inquite a big way. December 12th marks the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, and as a Mexicana from a Catholic family this was a very big deal to me and to those around me. I am hoping that my children will feel the same!
On this day Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated in a very special way, especially in Mexico, but increasingly in the United States too. If you grew up in Mexico or in a Hispanic Catholic family, chances are that you are very familiar with the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.